Stephen English: Looking back at 2013 how do you feel the season went?
Shane Byrne: I think that first and foremost there’s nothing that I look back on about 2013 that I think ‘I wish I had done this or I wish I had done that.’ I did the best that I could for myself, the team and the fans. At Brands Hatch, for the last round, I was gutted for the fans that the weather was bad because if had been dry it would have been another one of those epic battles that Alex [Lowes] and I had been having.
I was feeling good and hoping that it would be dry and that we’d have three good races to decide who was going to be champion. I know that in the conditions that we raced in that I gave it my all, coming from the back of the grid, to catch Alex and had a bit of a battle at the end and he beat me. Obviously it was disappointing having been the current champion but I can look anybody in the eye and honestly say that I did my best.
SE: How do you rate Alex compared to the other guys that you’ve gone up against in the BSB or MotoGP?
SB: Alex has really, really progressed since the Showdown last year and when he won at Silverstone last year he said to me that there was a lot more to come. As a rider you can see, if you look at a few different championships, when someone is coming and I knew that he’d be strong and jumping on the Samsung Honda he was only going to get stronger.
In the first part of the year everything was pretty cool and we won a lot of races and had some good battles but in the middle of the year we had a little bit of bad luck and little problems that cost us wins and he got a bit of momentum going. When you have a bit of momentum going it’s hard to break and then at Assen it was a little bit unfortunate, obviously, and then at Silverstone I had a crash and it hurt me then it was Brands.
I think that Alex has matured into a really strong rider. We both had to ride on the limit to do what we did this season and he’s now doing that without making the mistakes that he had made before. We all make little mistakes but now his little mistakes don’t punish him as much as the big ones that he used to make.
I think that for me the wonderful thing about Alex is that he’s jumped on the [Crescent] Suzuki, which isn’t necessarily the most competitive bike in World Superbikes, and I know for a fact that he didn’t use a qualifying tyre and he’s fourth quickest.
That’s a testament to how hard we had to ride in BSB this year and anyone who thinks that World Superbikes is another level…it’s nonsense. Do I think that if I was in World Superbikes on a factory Kawasaki that I wouldn’t be winning races? Of course I don’t, I truly believe that I would. But that opportunity hasn’t arisen and as it stands I’ve been happy winning races in BSB.
SE: If the chance did come up, would you go back to World Superbikes?
SB: I think that I’d have to see what Paul wanted to do. Paul Bird has been a massive part of my career and right now I’m riding because I’m still in contract but he’s said as good as ‘I’ve got your back and I don’t know what you’ll be riding but I want you to be riding for me’ and the feeling is mutual. I love this team and I love working for Paul and I’m hopeful that we can continue that way and see what happens.
SE: Alex is going into World Superbikes now with riders like Tom Sykes, Leon Haslam and Chaz Davies. How do you view the British riders in WSBK?
SB: I think that Alex will give them a wake-up call. There’s some guys that have got pretty comfy there and there’s some guys that have never had to ride bad bikes.
That makes a big difference and we’ve all spoken about Valentino Rossi being the GOAT but we’ve seen him have two really difficult years with the team he used to be with [Ducati] and because of that everyone is questioning his motivation and his ability now. They’ve forgotten that they used to say that he was the greatest of all-time.
World Superbikes now is a lot like MotoGP in that way; if you aren’t on a top bike you’re not going to win races and it doesn’t matter who you are. For Alex going there on something that isn’t a top bike and to put it top four on his first test it can only be good for him and BSB because it shows how hard we’re able to ride.
SE: Looking back and comparing last year to your three title years how has going up against Alex, who’s 15 years younger, compared?
SB: Alex rides on a lot of enthusiasm and bravery and I ride a lot on knowledge. I know that if I do my job well enough on Friday and Saturday that I’m going to be there or thereabouts on Sunday. To me the age thing is just a number and I’m still just as stupid as I was when I was 21!
I’m probably enjoying my racing more than I used to because to ride as hard as we’ve had to this year to eke out a race win has been fantastic. At the end of the day if BSB titles came on the back of Frosties packets you’d probably be champion! It’s a tough class and a tough life and you have to work really hard to reap the rewards.
SE: Looking back on your career how do you view the evolution of BSB and Superbikes in that time?
SB: I think that the best thing that the organisers did was introduce the control ECU. I think that if World Superbikes want to have some close racing and some fair racing that they need do exactly the same.
All the cost cutting rules that they do are a load of nonsense. You’re not dealing with some wealthy businessmen with some manufacturer support, you’re dealing with manufacturers and they’ll find ways to make things work.
I think that BSB now is a fantastic championship and I don’t doubt for one minute that if I was on the Yamaha or the Honda or any of the bikes that we’d still be winning races because it’s the top riders that win races now and not the top bikes.
You’ve got to take your hats off to Stuart Higgs and Jonathan Palmer for coming up with the formula that they came up with because if you ride good you can win a race and if you ride badly than you won’t. That’s what we all want.
SE: The EVO spec is one thing but what about the Showdown points format? You’ve won one title with the Showdown and lost two, what do you think about it?
SB: I’ve scored the most points twice so in effect I could be sitting here as a five times champion but I’m not because the Showdown has gone against me twice. I’m not a fan of the Showdown and I openly admit it and I’m hoping that the rules for the Showdown will be slightly modified for next year. I’ve had some conversations with the organisers about it.
SE: Is that just the number of races included or will it also be about the points handicap at the start of the Showdown?
SB: I think that you do way too much work, three quarters of the year, trying to get podium credits. I went from a 30 point lead to a 6 point lead because of the podium credits and I think that’s a little bit unfair. At the end of the day, I think that they’ll modify that.
SE: You’ve raced for Aprilia in MotoGP. What were your first thoughts about them coming back and how was your experience working with in 2004?
SB: I think that when I rode for Aprilia they were a fantastic company and they gave me a lot of support. The thing that nobody really takes into account is that they saw me win a BSB title and win two WSBK races then go straight into MotoGP.
It wasn’t something that I did just because it was a chance to get into MotoGP. It was a three year deal with a new bike, but at the time Aprilia got bought by Piaggio and they didn’t want to go MotoGP racing anymore. So we all just tried to get through the season and call it a day.
I don’t doubt that if they’d stuck at it, their history in 125s and 250s and now in WSBK, shows that they know what they’re doing. I think that it’s great they’re coming back and the more manufacturers in MotoGP the better. Whether they’ll come back and compete with the likes of Honda and Yamaha straight away is to be seen at a later date.
We’ll have to wait and see but I think that it’s great that they’re coming back to the sport.
SE: You don’t seem concerned that your own 2014 plans have not yet been made official…
SB: I tend not to bug Paul too much because he’s a mate and he’s got more than enough on his plate without BSB riders shouting at him about what we’re going to do! He’s told me that he’ll look after me one way or another and where ever it may be I’ll be riding for him. I want to be back in BSB and it would be fantastic because there’s definitely unfinished business there.
I’ve ridden for Paul a lot of times, this is my fourth or fifth year with him. He doesn’t employ me because he has to he employs me because he wants to. I ride for his team because I want to.
I could have gone to any of the manufacturer teams for next year but when someone like Paul who has been such an influential part of your career – what are you going to do? A great percentage of my 51 wins have been because he’s been behind me. I’ve a lot of respect for him and I’m 100% sure that he’ll be true to his word.